In this age of constant distraction and limited face-to-face time, I decided to drop some of what I call “anti-social” media and join real-time groups to help restore a sense of community. I suspect this lost sense of community has contributed to many of us no longer fully engaging with others in real conversations and the opportunity for civil discourse.
Though I was not directly responsible for Facebook’s $120 billion loss in shareholder wealth last week, I did stop using the social media platform as part of my plan to disengage from such distractions and engage in more meaningful activities. (To those of you who followed me on Facebook, I hope you will continue to do so on LinkedIn or Twitter.)
When I witness a group of teenagers hanging out with each other while staring at their cell phones, I can’t help but think that they are missing out on important opportunities for meaningful and deeper connections. How will they establish real intimacy? Where will they learn to demonstrate empathy for others when their feelings and concerns are concealed with and misinterpreted by abbreviated text and emojis?
Perhaps I sound like a curmudgeon, but when an extremely useful tool such as a cellphone becomes a barrier to truly connecting with others, it is no longer a tool but a crutch.
“Our civilization, like every civilization, is a conversation,” writes author Jonah Goldberg in Suicide of the West. “Therefore the demise of our civilization is only inevitable if the people saying and arguing the right things stop talking.”
And David Brooks of The New York Times has written in a number of columns that “social fragmentation and social isolation are the fundamental problems afflicting America today.”
For me, I’ve chosen to monitor the number of times I check my cellphone and extract myself from meaningless and mindless activities in order to make room for more meaningful ones. In the past year, I joined two different groups and they’ve provided more meaning to my life. Though I didn’t join them with this specific purpose in mind, they have helped me engage in rebuilding a sense of community.
The first community I joined is called Round Table and it’s a group of about 50 business people who meet for breakfast every Thursday morning at 7 am in order to support and learn together. Each week a different member or his or her guest presents a topic that would be of interest to the group. This could be about a company, a product or service, or—what has become increasingly popular and beneficial to all—an update on their personal lives along with lessons learned.
Many members have been meeting for more than twenty years and continue doing so because it provides them with something they can get nowhere else in their lives. One long time member refers to it as his “church” because he finds spiritual fulfillment from the regular discipline.
When I first joined Round Table last year, I expected it be primarily for networking and participation would be beneficial to expanding my business. However, I now also see it as a support system that truly feeds my soul in a way that has been missing in my life. It is so much more than social or business interaction; it is sharing and learning in a supportive community.
The second community I joined is an organization called Better Angels. It was formed in 2016 after the presidential election that made it clear “we’re becoming two Americas, each angry with the other, and neither trusting the other’s basic humanity and good intentions.”
Better Angels is a bipartisan citizen’s movement that was created to help unify our divided nation. By bringing red and blue Americans together into a working alliance, they are helping to forge new ways to talk to one another, participate together in public life, and influence the direction of the nation.
Earlier this month I attended a “Red/Blue Workshop” as an observer where seven conservative-leaning and seven progressive-leaning people participated in moderated activities and discussions that clarify disagreements, reduce stereotyped thinking, and begin building the relationships needed to find common ground. It was fascinating and encouraging to watch participants learn to fully listen and respectfully engage in civil discussions with those they oppose politically.
In sum, Better Angels aims to help Americans learn to engage in respectful real-time, face-to-face conversation in order to connect on what unites rather than divides us. This will hopefully serve as a counter measure to what is often the opposite in social media. And Russia will have a tougher time interfering.
I’m currently in the process of becoming a facilitator for Better Angels in order to deepen my engagement and encourage my fellow citizens to participate more fully in civil discourse.
These two groups—Round Table and Better Angels—are helping me to feel more engaged in a way that stretches beyond friendships and family. These groups are rebuilding the sense of community that I feel is missing not only in me, but also in American society. I am finding fellowship and this is rewarding because I believe I am engaging in a way that demands more of me and delivers more to me.
Rebuilding this sense of community may be the antidote we need for our distracted attention and lack of civil discourse.